I feel that I need to raise concerns with the current CEO’s lack of communication to ratepayers, Councillors and the community in general.
Let me preface these comments by saying I have been concerned about this for the past 6 or so months, however, I personally feel that the CEO is not a very approachable person and is none too concerned with what ratepayers think. I have been told by several sources now that he does not seem to respond to either phone calls or written correspondence. My major concern here is that we will drift back into the “bad old days” where Council made decisions without consulting the community and with the major projects and infrastructure such as the onset of the South West Growth Centre, Badgerys Creek Airport and Moorebank Intermodal to name but a few, we do not need to feel like “mushrooms” (kept in the dark and fed on bull…..) we should be involved in decision making processes that will affect us.
Let me try to explain the “bad old days” – During the period of late 2004 to mid-2010 the previous GM and the Government appointed Administrator were very lax in their communication to the community and this led to great suspicion of Council and its staff. Policies were actioned, rules changed; Local Environment Plans were implemented that affected the whole Liverpool Local Government area with very little community consultation.
When our previous General Manager/CEO Farooq Portelli was appointed in Sept 2010 one of his first actions was to try to improve communications between the community, rate payers and the Council. I know I had many conversations with Farooq that from a personal point of view I along with many rural residents were very suspicious of Councils actions and lack of consultation.
To remedy some of these concerns he attended a few of the rural and urban forums and spoke directly to residents, to date I have not seen our new CEO anywhere near the forums. Farooq also attended controversial IHAP’s and some controversial JRPP meetings so that he knew firsthand what communities concerns actually were.
Farooq also believed one way to restore community confidence in Council was to make Council dealings as transparent as possible. To this end he implemented many procedures to assist in this task. Two of the best forms of communication I personally believe he implemented were:
- Incoming and Outgoing Correspondence to Council –
This was a regular item in every Council Agenda and it was usually towards the end of the booklet. The majority of letters sent and received were Government bodies such as Local State and Federal Government. Many were responses from Government MP’s relating to issues that would affect the Council and its ratepayers i.e., Moorebank Intermodal etc.,
It was a great source of information to the community as to which of the State or Federal Members would respond to Council’s request for either attending a Leaders Forum or their responses to local issues. This showed the community that the CEO was listening and was actioning and which MP actually cared about his or her constituents.
Let me explain why this is a great process. At many of the Council meetings there may be a Notice of Motion where Councillors will request that the CEO contact a government body relating to a Council matter and this correspondence both in and out would be a matter of public record to show the community the progress of the matter. A matter that comes to mind is the controversial DA at Casula involving a gambling and liquor associated development, Councillors requested via a Notice of Motion that the CEO contacts relevant authorities such as ILGA and OLGA and seek advice to guide Councillors through their decision making, the incoming and outgoing correspondence for this should be a matter of public record to show the community that:
- That Council does care about informing the community and
- they are following up on what our elected Councillors are requesting on our behalf.
Unfortunately our current CEO made a “suggestion” during his first couple of meetings that this practice should be removed as it was “archaic” and no other Councils do this and unfortunately it was passed. Well, just because other Councils don’t use this facility does not make it archaic and who is to say that we are not more progressive by being transparent in our dealings and informing our community, maybe other Councils should take a lead from us.
I personally would like to see this process reinstated.
- Council Meeting Updates and Outcomes in the print Media (Leader, Champion and Rural Advertiser)
This was another initiative instigated by Farooq after listening to the communities concerns about lack of communication. I personally thought this was a great tool for the whole community, CBD, Urban and Rural.
As many of you would know I attend almost every Council Meeting and have done so for the past 5 ½ years. I tend to pour through the agenda first, attend the meeting and report back to our members. There were many times the proceedings would go very slow and become boring and I would “tune out” and many times they would go so fast I would miss the decision. Generally speaking there are only the usual 5 or 6 people of the approx. 170,000 Liverpool LGA residents that attend Council Meetings on a regular basis, so one way to disseminate the information to residents to keep them up to date was the CEO would prepare a full page spread called “OUTCOMES OF THE COUNCIL MEETING” after a Council Meeting summarising major decisions made and what it meant to the community. Even I used to refer back to these press items to ensure I understood the outcomes before passing this information onto others.
Councils and government bodies alike are always extolling the virtues of greater community consultation, well this was a great method of informing the community of Council decisions and should be reinstated.
Just recently I was becoming rather “over” attending Council meetings, however, I feel I need to attend “just in case” things slip back to the “bad old days” and policies, planning controls etc., do change and I am not aware of them. I have been personally affected in a major way many years back and I will continue to try to keep myself informed, however, Council also need to ensure all information is readily available.
Many people say don’t dwell in the past, and this statement annoys me greatly, it is not a matter of dwelling in the past it is a matter of learning from the past and not making the same mistakes.
Personally, I think the new CEO should take time to talk to the community, learn what concerns we have, what previous problems we encountered such as lack of communication and not repeat them.
So in closing, it is such a shame that our Council was so forward thinking in their communication processes that we would take a backward step.
I urge residents to contact your elected Councillors and the CEO and voice your concerns.
Pauline Rowe, 12th April 2015